Smoral’s coach speaks out, says Toronto was “aggressive pursuing him”

TORONTO — If a stress fracture in his right foot had not caused season-ending surgery, there is a good chance that the Blue Jays would not have been able to take Matt Smoral, a high school senior, in compensation round A.

Tabbed by many to be a first round selection heading into 2012, Smoral’s stock dropped because he was unable to pitch for the majority of the year.

The injury was a freak accident. Smoral and his Ohio high school team, Solon, were on a spring trip to Myrtle Beach, and enjoying an off-day in the warm Florida weather. At the beach, Smoral reached down to pick something up and heard a pop — he instantly knew it was serious.

“It was something that had happened previously,” said Smoral’s high school coach, Damien Kopkas. “They did the surgery, which was supposed to be more of a preventative surgery to take care of of what might have been an existing issue with the structure of his foot.

“He’s ahead of schedule, if not right on track. If it heals properly, it shouldn’t be an issue again in the future.”

Regardless of the injury, the Blue Jays liked him and Kopkas knew there was a good chance Toronto would be in on Smoral on Day 1.

“We both fielded a number of calls throughout the year,” Kopkas said. “”The Blue Jays were one of the teams that were very aggressive in trying to pursue him. I spoke with the Blue Jays multiple times before the season and throughout.

“Watching the Draft from my house, I was sitting there saying to myself when the Blue Jays came up ‘this could be the spot he goes,'” Kopkas said. “The Blue Jays were one of the teams that really showed a high level of interest in him. It did not shock me at all when his name was called to go to Toronto.”

Reports surfaced Wednesday afternoon that Smoral had agreed to a deal with the Blue Jays but it wasn’t immediately clear if that was the case. Smoral did confirm on his official Twitter account that he was off to Dunedin — presumably for a physical.

Kopkas has been the head coach at Solon for the past three years and says Smoral’s size is what jumps out when you see him take the mound. Smoral, listed at 6-foot-8, was a sophomore when Kopkas took over the team, and what he saw was a young pitcher who simply relied on his size and strength. What Kopkas then saw over the years was a player who worked tirelessly to become a true pitcher and work on his balance on the mound.

As much as Kopkas raved about Smoral’s ability to succeed in pro ball, he believes it will be his personality that takes him over the top.

“I don’t think it could have happened to a better person,” Kopkas said. “All of the physical tools, gifts and everything I’ve seen from him on the baseball field, if it’s hard to believe, he’s probably a better person than he is a baseball player. Just a great kid all around — intelligent, polite, an upstanding young man with a bright future ahead of him.

“It really felt very gratifying. I played a very small part in this, he worked very hard on his own. He worked hard on his craft and will continue to. I wish him nothing but the best in the future.”

Kopkas spoke further about Smoral’s three-pitch arsenal:

Fastball: “He finished up his high school career clocked in the 92-95-mph range. Sits low 90s”

Slider: “He’s been working a lot on his slider, it’s a mid-to-upper-80s pitch with a lot of sink into right-handers. That is going to be a very good pitch for him.”

Changeup: “He has a an above-average changeup with a lot of movement. Changeup is in the low-to-mid-80s.”

Final assessment: “He has three above-average pitches with a lot of command. He works very well both inside and outside of the strike zone. He has a presence on the mound, doesn’t get rattled easily.”

— Chris Toman

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